When GALE wrote her first song at age seven, she thought she might be a superhero.
Titled “Amor Sincero,” the salsa track was dedicated to a boy who didn’t like her back. “When I finished writing it, I was like, ‘Wait, did I just create something that didn’t exist just by using a melody and chords?’” she recalls. “I thought I had a superpower. Since then, I’ve just kept going.”
Expressing herself through music came easily to the Puerto Rican singer-songwriter, who grew up surrounded by artistic minds. Her father is also a musician — who, along with his band, performs at local events. Her grandfather was a professional cuatro player. Meanwhile, her mother was an actress who performed theater. “I was always free to experiment,” says the 29-year-old, who’s written songs for artists such as Fanny Lu, Juanes and Manuel Turizo, and is currently working on her first album.
Even before learning to perform professionally at Escuela Libre de Música, her father had been preparing her for the big stage since she was a little girl. “He used to make me perform every single time at every family reunion,” GALE says. “He would tell me, ‘If this is what you want to do your whole life, you need to practice.’ I was like, ‘I just want to go play hide and seek with my cousins!’ But then I’d sing 10 songs and I’d enjoy it.”
Now, GALE has become a go-to songwriter for a handful of artists — and on Nov. 17, she won her first Latin Grammy, thanks for songwriting credits on Christina Aguilera’s Aguilera, which scored best traditional pop vocal album, and is also nominated for best Latin pop album at February’s Grammys. “If you work hard and you manifest it, it happens. It’s grounding.”
Creating a path for herself is what GALE — who grew up listening to Shakira, Avril Lavigne and Selena Quintanilla — focused on since moving to Miami from Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. “First, I knew had to work my ass off to make things happen,” she explains. “What I always wanted was to have my own project as an artist and that’s what I was going to do no matter what. But how would I get there? I figured I’d start writing with other artists and build those relationships. Then get a publishing deal and get signed by a label.”
So, she started door-knocking and visited publishing companies to show them the catalog of songs she had recorded in her closet. Her first big break came in 2019, when peermusic invited her to a session with Colombian artist Fanny Lu, which is when they co-wrote “En Mis Tacones.” Since then, she says, doors opened thanks to “word of mouth because producers started recommending me, Fanny Lu wanted to work with me again.”
She eventually got a publishing deal with Warner Chappell Music and a record deal with Sony Music Latin. Then, she landed on Aguilera’s project — co-writing (along with DallasK and Josh Berrios) the Ozuna-assisted “Santo,” which peaked at No. 12 on Billboard‘s Latin Airplay chart in February.
She remembers meeting Aguilera during a writing session for “Brujería.” “She sat next to me and asks, ‘Is that you singing [on the demo]?’ I was like, ‘Yeah,’ and she said, ‘What a beautiful voice.’ In my mind I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve practiced singing Mi Reflejo every single day, I know the album from top to bottom. I’ve practiced performing all your songs…’ But what I really said was, ‘Thanks, you have a beautiful voice as well.’ It was a moment,” she says laughing.
Thankful that songwriting for other artists has opened doors, she’s now also focused on her own project, with plans to drop her debut album in 2023 — which would include her three singles, “Inmadura,” “Prolemas” and “D-Pic.” Describing her style as “Bad Bunny meets Dua Lipa meets Avril Lavigne,” her first songs showcase her raw, edgy songwriting skills and her pop-punk and rock influences. And, instead of going the collaborations route, she decided her first songs wouldn’t feature other artists. “It’s me saying, ‘This is who I am and this is it, I hope you like it,’” she says. “Collaborations will come because they’re also important and valuable. But for now, it’s just me.”
Below, learn more about this month’s Latin Artist on the Rise, in her own words:
Name: Carolina Isabel Colón Juarbe
Recommended Song: Oh snap, that’s hard. Because my three singles are all different, but they’re similar in that they’re raw and honest. I guess if someone is more into the romantic, nostalgic vibe, then listen to “Inmadura.” But if someone is like in their badass era, then they have to listen to “D-Pic.” And “Problemas” is like the perfect mix musically of what I do: pop, rock and urban. But if I had to pick, I’d say “D-Pic,” because it’s a statement. You’ll get a real representation of who I am as an artist.
Biggest Achievement: Starting to take my songs that are born from a vulnerable and intimate place and perform in front of a live audience. One of my favorite performances was the one I did at Latin Music Week in September. It felt magical. The connection with the people was amazing. I thought, “D–n, I am ready for this.” I will share that before going onstage, I called my dad and he said, “Mi amor, don’t worry, from the stage you can’t see anyone because of the spotlight. You just do your thing.” First thing when I go up on the stage, I see everyone’s faces.
What’s Next: I am working on my debut album, which is almost done. It’s very special, because it’s born after a breakup, the exact moment when I decided to end things with this person that I knew, since the very beginning, that this person was not my person. But I wanted to make it work. When I broke up with them, all these songs started coming to me and they represent different stages. Because it hurts to hurt someone, it’s a roller coaster of feelings.
I’m very excited for the album. It’s coming early to mid-next year. And I’m definitely doing more shows next year. In fact, I’m performing at Fiestas de la Calle San Sebastián in Puerto Rico in January, which is a huge event. It’s legendary in my country.